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Prepping for Preps '22-23: Downingtown West (Boys)

11/17/2022, 11:15am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2022-23 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed thus far can be found here.)

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The 2021-22 season went well for Downingtown West’s boys. The postseason, however, was another story.

Stuart Ross’ Whippets rolled to a Ches-Mont League National Division title, winning 16 games in the regular season, including a nine-game winning streak that stretched from mid-January well into February, losing only one game between Jan. 4 and Feb. 8. But a two-point loss to West Chester Henderson in their regular-season finale was the first of six losses in their final eight games that left West with a sour taste all offseason.


Army West Point commit Dylan Blair (above) leads the 2022-23 Downingtown West boys. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

They lost to division rival West Chester East (55-48) in the Ches-Mont title game, to Plymouth-Whitemarsh (63-58) in their first district playoff game, the strong regular season giving them a bye into the second round; a win over Perk Valley in the play-backs was enough to secure them a state berth, but they lost two more District 1 seeding games — including an eight-point loss to East — and the state opener, a 56-42 defeat at the hands of Reading.

“Obviously some of it had to come with the different teams and the different looks they were throwing at us defensively, and also it was our lack of experience,” senior guard Dylan Blair said. “We had a whole bunch of guys that had never been in that position before, including myself. 

“Now that we have guys who have been in that atmosphere, that have played in some tight games in the postseason when it means win-or-go-home. I feel like we have more of an advantage than we did last year, for sure.”

“We missed a lot of shots in those games,” senior guard Joey Suarez said. “We played as hard as we could, I feel like we just missed shots and we had to adjust to the box-and-one played on Dylan — but we’ve been working on that a lot recently, so we’ll be prepared for that this year.”

Ross and the Whippets have some attrition to deal with, including the move of 6-foot-10 forward Jake Warren to Florida for his senior year, and the graduation of two other starters in 6-6 Drew Shelton — now a starting offensive tackle at Penn State — plus starters Aidan Primanti and Cooper Hardin, in addition to reserve Dean Polluch


Joey Suarez (above) will move from a reserve role into the starting lineup as a senior. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

That leaves a trio of seniors at the reins in Blair, a 5-11 combo guard and West Point commit; Suarez, a 6-0 shooting guard; and Kelly Bell, a 6-4 senior forward. 

Blair will have the ball in his hands once again, the son of West Chester University head coach Damian Blair an excellent point guard who can find shots for himself or teammates, a tenacious on-ball defender as well. Suarez, whose father Joe Suarez is one of Blair’s assistants at WCU, is a strong outside shooter and secondary ball-handler; Bell gives them some length at the ‘3’ and ‘4’ positions, and will be counted on to rebound and score around the bucket.

It’s no secret who’s at the top of the pecking order, however.

“We know what we’re going to get from Dylan every night,” Ross said. “He’s a great leader, continued to be a great leader in the offseason program…he’s looking to get better every day. Obviously Dylan’s going to play a really big part of what we do as a program this year.”

Behind that senior trio is a huge junior class, with Ross mentioning no fewer than seven members of his 2024 group that will be on the varsity roster: Antonio Lewis (5-10 point guard), Alex Neuhaus (6-3 guard), Nate Zincone (6-2 wing), Chase Horestra (6-4 wing) Jase Lasher (6-3 wing), Bobby Coupe (6-3), Ryan Barker and D-I football recruit Ryan Howard, a 6-7 forward.

“All of them are going to play, all of them [are] going to be counted on to contribute in some fashion,” Ross said. “They all bring different skill sets, they’ve had a promising JV [team], coming up through the program, so we’re really excited about them.”

But the real prize for the West, and the hopes for their future, are the sophomores — specifically, Donovan Fromhartz and Zeke Staz.

Donovan Fromhartz (above) has emerged as a major weapon for the Whippets over the summer after a strong freshman season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Fromhartz, a 6-5 wing, was a freshman-year starter and already-capable scorer, but after a strong offseason with Philly Pride on the Under Armour circuit, he’s looked ready to step into a major role alongside Blair as one of the Whippets’ featured pieces. A versatile wing who can play the ‘2’ and ‘3,’ Fromhartz is a terrific shooter and much-improved attacker who plays tough around the rim and rebounds well for his position.

“We’ve always known he’s been very good, but recently his IQ’s been getting a lot better,” Suarez said. “This summer and fall he’s really cleaned up his game, a lot less turnovers, a lot less missing plays and all that, he’s just gotten a lot better in that aspect.”

“I think he’s just more comfortable with his role and what we kind of — I don’t know if it’s expect, or need from him, he’s just more comfortable in that role,” Ross said. “He shoots it, rebounds it, we want him to do a little bit of everything, create some mismatches for us, hopefully on some nights.”

Staz, a 6-7 forward, has been out in the fall with a hamstring injury, but the team is hopeful he’ll be back on the court before the season begins. No matter what, the Whippets’ biggest goal in the preseason is to focus on that rebounding effort, needing to replace Warren and Shelton’s output as a group, taking advantage of their group of wings and bigs, plus the guards, to all chip in.

“We’re all boxing out, doing a lot more rebounding stuff in practice because we don’t have a 6-10 guy to rely on to give us rebounds, especially with Zeke hurt,” Suarez said. “With that all happening we’ve been doing a lot of defense, boxing out, and all our young guys are ready to contribute and defend.”

Ross starts his squad off with a game against Archbishop Wood and also plays Chester, Reading and a pair of games at the Governor’s Challenge in Maryland, plus the tough Ches-Mont which includes a mostly-intact West Chester East squad back as defending champs, with upstarts like West Chester Henderson and Coatesville ready to challenge as well.

“We’re ready to go,” Blair said. “We feel like we’re being counted out, and we’re ready to be an underdog. Watch out for Downingtown West.”


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